Thoughts from an Ordinary Guy

This journey through life is never boring......

Author: tomvanderwell (page 2 of 119)

2 Words

I had the opportunity this past week to talk with a bunch of high school students about the shortest verse in the Bible.

What is it?

John 11:34

“Jesus Wept”

That’s it. That’s all that the verse says. Jesus cried.

But why?

Why what? Why did he cry? He was sad about Lazarus, wasn’t he?

Was he? Think about it a minute.

Did Jesus know what he was going to do next? I believe He did. I believe that he stood there and wept knowing very well that within the next 10 minutes, His friend Lazarus would be raised from the dead. That HE would raise Lazarus from the dead.

So why was He crying?

Was He crying because all of these people didn’t truly believe that He was who He said He was and they doubted?

Was He crying about what He had to face that next week in Jerusalem?

Was He crying about the evil that was running rampant around the world?

Was He weeping about Hitler?

Was He weeping about the madmen in Rwanda and other places who are responsible for the deaths of untold numbers of people?

Was He weeping about Las Vegas?

And Orlando

And London

And Sandy Hook

And Columbine

After a good bit of wrestling with the question, we came up with what was probably a bit of a cop-out…….

We said that Jesus was probably weeping over all of these and more.

He was looking death in the face and was faced with the evil in the world.

The evil that has come down in the past and since then and knew that He had a big job ahead of him.

That’s what He was weeping about.

But we also agreed it will be really cool to be able to sit around the table with Jesus some day and ask Him.

Smart bunch of teenagers…….


Chess or Checkers?

This morning, in church, our pastor said something in the sermon that really hit home with me. We’re just starting a series on King David – “A Mess After God’s Own Heart.”

While talking about God’s transition from the King the people of Israel wanted (Saul) to the King that God wanted (David), Pastor Darrell said, “God doesn’t play checkers, he plays chess – think about it…….”

I have been……

Checkers is a game that usually takes minutes not hours.
Chess is a game that takes hours, days or even longer.

Checkers is a game requires minimal skills and intelligence.
Chess is a game that requires significant intelligence if you are going to play it well.

Checkers is a game that rarely requires seeing more than one or two steps in advance.
Chess is a game that requires seeing far into the future and planning not just the next move or two, but the next dozen moves and anticipating your opponent’s move far into the future.

Checkers can have multiple kings and everyone else is exactly the same.
Chess has only one leader, only one King and it celebrates and coordinates the differences between the players.

So, what do we have? We have God playing a “game” that requires patience, takes a long time, requires seeing into the future and planning many steps, celebrates and protects one leader and one King.

Yeah, I’d say God plays chess. What do you think?

Tom V

On Being Uncomfortable

I had a conversation with a young man the other day and the topic turned to going on mission trips – particularly overseas trips to places where it is totally different than where we are.

Me: “I would encourage you to take some time and talk to your parents, talk to God, talk to others about whether you should do a mission trip like that.”

Him: “I’m just not the right type.”

Me: “What do you mean by that? Who is the right type?”

Him: “Someone who likes to travel. Someone who speaks a couple of languages. Someone who is a doctor or a construction worker or something like that.”

Him: “I would feel uncomfortable.”

Me: “Now we’re talking……”

Him: “Huh?”

Me: “Let me tell you a couple of things: 1) Every time I have gone on a mission trip, especially one to a country other than the United States, I have been nervous or uncomfortable. Sometimes the nervousness goes away soon, sometimes it doesn’t go away until I land back in the United States. 2) What have I been nervous about? Well, in random order, language, water, language, heat, water, sweat, driving up the mountains in the back of a pick up with no seat belts and a huge drop off on the edge of the road, being able to do the right work without insulting the locals, strange food, oh and did I mention water?. “These are some of my favorite things…….”

But do you want to know what my favorite thing to be uncomfortable about is?”

Him: “Yeah.”

Me: “My favorite thing to be uncomfortable about when I go on a mission trip is that I will miss God. I know He is there. I want to go there, see Him, hear Him and a part of what He is doing.”

“The thought of missing the chance to see God at work makes me uncomfortable.”


The Politics of Poverty–Throwing Money is Not Enough

There is a rather large non-governmental organization in the United Kingdom called “OxFam.”   I’m not sure why it has that name, but it does.

They publish a blog with a series of articles on it that wrestle with some very big and very deep issues relating to poverty, to the governmental impact on poverty and how to hopefully do it better.    While I read it consistently, some of it is way too obtuse and hypothetical for me to see its relevance.

This one is not.   They wrote a post yesterday that you can read here if you want to  read the entire thing.   Let me attempt to hit some high points or low points for you:

  • The article is talking specifically about situations in Tanzania and Uganda where the government is displacing poor and poverty stricken people to clear room for industrial development and other things.   Sound like a good thing, right?   The governments are basically saying, “We need where you live so that we can build an oil refinery and make money.   Here’s $_________ go move.”   What’s wrong with that?
  • The article lays out a convincing case that it is not a situation where there is anything wrong with that.   No, instead it is a situation where that is not ENOUGH.    If you give someone who is struggling with poverty some money and tell them to move, they might have a little more money but if they move and then something happens, they have nothing to fall back on and that essentially puts them in a worse position than they were.

So if that’s not enough, what is enough?   Their point is that if someone (a government etc.) is going to relocate people because they need that land, they need to do three things:

1. Compensate them for their troubles – anyone who has ever moved knows how disruptive it can be.   It’s disruptive when you plan on it, it’s even more so when it is forced on you.

2. Help them – help them make the move to their new place.   Don’t just say, “move, here’s money.”   Instead, help them get through all of the logistics and the struggles of actually getting there.

3. Provide or help them obtain a place to move to.   Don’t let them get stuck strictly in a refugee camp, but help them get reestablished with either a place of their own or a place they can rent.

In the article that OxFam wrote, they are focusing on one particular situation.   A situation where a government or corporation needs to relocate people so that business can develop and expand.

Let me give you a couple of examples of where and how else it could happen:

  • Houston
  • The island of Barbuda
  • The Florida Keys
  • Puerto Rico
  • Mexico

What do all of those have in common?   In the last month, they have all been hit by natural disasters of epic proportions.  

There are millions of people who don’t know what to do, who don’t know how to do what needs to be done, who don’t have any way to help themselves.   They lost everything in that natural disaster.   If the governmental agencies or non-profits that are helping only do step 1, they aren’t really helping.

So, when you want to “do something” to help, make sure that the organization you are working with or want to support has all of those steps in mind.   They might not do all of them, but they see them and understand them and work with others who can help with those parts.

Helping is more complex than it appears, but it can be done and done well, if it’s done carefully.

Tom V

Views of a College Student

Saturday, I had the opportunity to talk with a young woman who is a student at a local college.   She is studying PR and Marketing and self described herself as “a black girl.”

We got to talking and I asked her if she was from around here.   Her answer kicked off a very interesting discussion.    A couple of things that she said:

  • She is not from West Michigan and as soon as she graduates, she will not set foot in West Michigan again.   “I’m gone and I’m not coming back.”
  • When I asked her why, was there a problem with her college?   She said that her college is a great place for a person who is a minority.   I believe the terms she used describing her school were – “understanding, kind, open, and acceptance of everyone no matter what they look like.”
  • Outside of her school, she said that West Michigan is very unfriendly, very stereotypically close minded, very unwilling to blend with others who aren’t like them.   She said that she is a waitress and is the only black person on staff and she is amazed at not only the things her white co-workers say but also how they seem to have no concept of how their words hurt someone who isn’t part of the white power group.
  • We had a discussion about church and how there are very few churches in West Michigan (a very small percentage) where a single (not necessarily not married, but just 1 person) person of color  would walk into the church 10 minutes before their Sunday morning service would start.   What would the reaction be?   How would that reaction differ if I, as a white person, went to an all black church (btw – I would consider it a privilege to be invited to an all black church).
  • We talked about Madison Square Church – where my family and I attend and how we, as a church, are constantly wrestling with how to worship and lead and work as a joint group of mixed and diverse communities and how it is very hard but it can be done.
  • We talked about how do we change this?   How do we get rid of the racism that is causing so many problems in our world?    She laid out a very convincing case that the way to defeat racism is from the inside.   We need to work one on one, one person reaching out to another person and reaching past the difficulties, reaching to understand their viewpoint and reaching to help them understand your viewpoint and to acknowledge that your viewpoint might be very harmful to others and might be based on years and decades and centuries of ill will and unfair activity.
  • It’s two days later and I’m still processing what we talked about.   I’m amazed at this young woman’s perceptivity and intelligence and also her willingness to discuss difficult things with the antithesis of what she is – a middle aged white guy (me).   It was a big step on her part.

It was a step in the right direction for both of us.   She is going to give my information to the head of a group at her college that combats racism and hopefully we can connect them with Madison Square and make a bigger difference.

A chance meeting?

Nope, not a chance.

God knew that both of us needed to discuss a hard subject openly with someone on the other side of the color spectrum.

Pray that more of those type of conversations can happen.   Our community and our churches and our nation need it.


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